Michael & Akosua Essien Visit Liberia to Champion Polio Eradication in West Africa

Advocating for a Polio-Free Future for Every Child

MONROVIA, Liberia, 04 June 2024 – Michael Essien, the celebrated football icon and coach, along with his wife, Akosua Puni Essien, are visiting Liberia to advocate for the eradication of polio. This visit aims to support the Liberian government’s ongoing efforts to eradicate polio, and increase child immunization, coinciding with the synchronized polio campaign across Liberia and six West African countries.

Liberia, having reported a resurgence of variant polio type 2 in wastewater, is now at the forefront of a critical fight against this disease. The nation has embarked on two rounds of nationwide immunization campaigns using the novel oral polio vaccine (nOPV2) to quickly stop the spread of the virus, with the second round set to begin on 7 June. While vaccine coverage rates are showing promising progress, the battle against polio requires unwavering commitment and action.

Mr. Adolphus Clark, Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) Manager in Liberia, has expressed his optimism about the campaign, stating, “Our collective efforts have brought us closer than ever to a polio-free Liberia. With the support of Michael and Akosua Essien and our global partners, we are renewing our commitment to ensure that every child is protected from this preventable disease.”

The campaign is one of hope and determination. Despite the challenges, the number of variant poliovirus cases has significantly declined, with no children paralyzed by polio since 2021. The focus remains on reaching zero cases and maintaining vigilance until polio is eradicated from the region and the world.

During their visit, the Essiens have engaged in a learning trip focused on immunization and polio eradication efforts in Liberia, understanding the vaccine infrastructure, and listening to personal stories from families and children receiving vaccines as well as the health care workers administering them. Michael also participated in a friendly football game with young athletes in Liberia.

Akosua Puni Essien has expressed her enthusiasm for the eradication efforts in Liberia, stating, “It is inspiring to see the coordinated efforts in Liberia to ensure every child receives vaccination to protect them from the polio virus. I urge all parents and caregivers to ensure that children under the age of five-years-old receive their vaccines – the polio vaccine is free, safe, and crucial for protecting our children from this devastating disease.”

The collective efforts of frontline workers, communities, local governments, Rotarians, and other global partners have been instrumental in the fight against polio in Liberia and worldwide. With continued dedication and support, the goal of eradicating polio in Liberia and Africa is within reach.

“Through unity and determination, most of the world has overcome the shadow of polio. Let its eradication be a beacon of hope, reminding us that with perseverance, even the most daunting challenges can be conquered,” said Michael Essien. “I am inspired by the tenacity of the Liberian people, and I know that together, we will finish the job so no child ever has to live in fear of polio again.”

The Essiens’ visit has been organized by the Gates Foundation and UNICEF, in coordination with the government of Liberia.

“The visit of Michael and Akosua Essien underscores the power of partnership in our fight against polio. Their presence boosts confidence in vaccination and highlights our shared commitment to a polio-free future for every child in West and Central Africa. Together, we can make polio history,” said Andy Brooks, UNICEF Representative in Liberia.

Notes to Editors

Photos from the visit are available upon request from: Mostafa Omar mosomar@unicef.org

Liberia Polio Situation

Liberia reported two variant polio type 2 detections from environmental sampling in 2023 and 6 so far in 2024. Environmental surveillance involves testing sewage or other environmental samples for the presence of poliovirus, often confirming it in the absence of clinical cases of paralysis. This comes after a period of almost two years without any detection of variant polio type 2 in Liberia. There have been no symptomatic cases in children since 2021. As a result, Liberia has been prioritized for 2 rounds of nationwide nOPV2 campaigns, with the first round implemented on 10 May synchronized with six West African countries and the second round scheduled to begin on 7 June.

Routine Immunization Overview in Liberia

Liberia has introduced seven vaccines into their routine immunization schedule: Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), Rotavirus (RV), Inactive Polio Virus (IPV), Haemophilus Influenzae Tue B (HIB), Typhoid, and Measles containing vaccine (MCV2). Latest coverage rates from the 2023 WHO/UNICEF Estimates of National Immunization Coverage (WUENIC) data report range from 78% for HIB to 59% for MCV2. IPV coverage rates have recently improved from 66% in 2019 to 71% in 2022.

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